- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2008


Birth bonanza for panda cubs

BEIJING | Four giant panda cubs were born within 14 hours at a breeding center in southwest China, a miniature baby boom for the rare animals, a state news agency reported Sunday.

The births began Saturday at the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Center when 9-year-old Qiyuan, or “Magic Luck,” gave birth to female twins at 5:24 p.m. and 6:16 p.m., the Xinhua news agency reported, citing center specialist Yang Feifei.

Eight-year-old Chenggong, or “Success,” gave birth to a cub at 7:51 p.m., followed by 8-year-old Zhuzhu, or “Pearl,” who delivered at 6:55 a.m. Sunday, the center’s specialist said.

The center currently has 71 pandas in captivity, Xinhua said.

The giant panda is revered as an unofficial national symbol of China. Only about 1,600 pandas live in the wild, mostly in southwestern Sichuan province, which was hit by an earthquake in May that killed nearly 70,000 people.

China’s most famous panda preserve, the Wolong Nature Reserve, was seriously damaged in the quake and forced to relocate most of its pandas. The preserve is at the heart of China’s gargantuan effort to use captive breeding and artificial insemination to save the giant panda.


$100 billion turns to pocket change

HARARE | Zimbabwe’s bank chief plans new currency reforms - removing “more zeros” from the plummeting Zimbabwe dollar and raising the limit on cash withdrawals - to tackle the country’s runaway inflation and cash shortages, state media reported Sunday.

Previous currency reforms have failed to tame Zimbabwe’s inflation - officially pegged at 2.2 million percent a year but estimated by independent analysts to be closer to 12.5 million percent. It also has become virtually impossible to get access to cash as the country’s economic collapse worsens.

Authorities last week released a new 100 billion dollar bank note. By Sunday it was not enough even to buy a scarce loaf of bread in what has become one of the world’s most expensive - and impoverished - countries.

The Sunday Mail, a government mouthpiece, reported that central bank reserve governor Gideon Gono told an agricultural show Saturday he would introduce the new measures in the coming days to make sure cash shortages are a “thing of the past.”

Zimbabwe’s government says Western sanctions - tightened last week - are mainly to blame. Critics blame mismanagement by President Robert Mugabe’s government, a land-reform program that slashed the country’s agricultural production and the country’s central bank for printing excessive quantities of money.

To improve liquidity on the market, Mr. Gono was going to remove “more zeros,” the paper reported.

“This time, we will make sure that those zeros that would come knocking on the governor’s window will not return. They are going for good,” Mr. Gono was quoted as saying.

Computers, electronic calculators and automated teller machines at banks have not been able to handle basic transactions in billions - nine zeros - or trillions - 12 zeros - or even quadrillions, with 15 zeros.

A new laptop computer was advertised Sunday at 1.2 quadrillion Zimbabwe dollars. That’s the equivalent of about $25,000 at the official exchange rate, $8,500 at the black market cash exchange rate, or $2,000 at a third exchange rate used in electronic money transfers through bank accounts that don’t involve the physical issue of Zimbabwe dollar bank notes.


Officials deny banning book

CAIRO | Egypt denied on Sunday that it had banned a book by a British journalist about Egyptian politics and society entitled “Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the Brink of a Revolution.”

An Information Ministry official said reports the book had been banned were “not true,” the official MENA news agency reported, despite declarations to the contrary by the book’s author and publisher.

British author John R. Bradley and publishers Palgrave Macmillan said on Wednesday that a bookshop in Cairo had canceled an order for the book after Egyptian government censors said the book was banned.

However, the unnamed ministry official told MENA that “the information minister [Anas al-Fiqi] authorized distribution of the book inside Egypt when it was submitted to him for a decision.”

“A special committee, as is the case with all foreign books, had read Bradley’s book and then submitted it to the information minister, who authorized its distribution,” MENA said.

The official said the ministry “does not ban any books except those that are an affront to religious or moral values.”

“Bradley’s book was not previously banned in Egypt and was distributed as soon as it was reviewed by the information minister,” he said.

According to the publishers, the book “examines the junctions of Egyptian politics and society as they slowly disintegrate under the twin pressures of a ruthless military dictatorship at home and a flawed Middle East policy in Washington.”


Prisoners hanged in execution spree

TEHRAN | Iran hanged 29 people at dawn on Sunday after they had been convicted of murder, drug trafficking and other crimes, state run television reported.

All were hanged inside Evin prison, north of the capital. The hangings were carried out after the death sentences were ratified by Iran’s Supreme Court, the television report said.

A separate report on the TV station’s Web site quoted Tehran Chief Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi as saying the men had records of repeated crimes, including rape, armed robbery and murder. The Web site also said some of the convicts had “smuggled thousands of kilograms of various kinds of narcotics” in and out of Iran.

The hangings brought the number of people executed in Iran so far this year to about 150.

International human rights groups have accused Iran of making excessive use of the death penalty, but Iranian officials say capital punishment is an effective deterrent carried out only after all judicial proceedings are exhausted.

The Rome-based Hands Off Cain, which campaigns to stop the death penalty, said last week that at least 355 people were put to death in Iran last year, compared with 215 in 2006. The group said the actual figure may be even higher because Iran does not publish official statistics on the number of executions.

The 355 executions placed Iran second only to China as the world’s biggest executioner.

The group said China alone accounted for at least 5,000 executions based on reports by the media and other human rights groups.

Iranian rights activists said earlier this month that authorities have sentenced eight women and one man convicted of adultery to death by stoning.

From wire dispatches and staff reports



Click to Read More

Click to Hide